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Columbia University temporarily suspends anti-Israel groups from campus

The suspension, for threatening rhetoric and intimidation, will last a month

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 12: Supporters of both Israel and Palestine engage with each other at Columbia University on October 12, 2023 in New York City. Across the country and around the world, people are holding rallies and vigils for both Palestinians and Israeli's following last weekends attack by Hamas. The attack, which killed over 1000 Israeli's, has resulted in a bombardment of Gaza by the Israeli military. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Columbia University on Friday announced a temporary suspension of the campus chapters of National Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) as official student groups through the end of the fall term – the first Ivy League school to crack down on the anti-Israel groups. 

The suspension, which will last for about a month, was due to the holding of an unauthorized event that “included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.” 

Gerald Rosberg, senior executive vice president of the university, said in a statement that the “decision was made after the two groups repeatedly violated University policies related to holding campus events, culminating in an unauthorized event Thursday afternoon that proceeded despite warnings and included threatening rhetoric and intimidation.”

Rosberg explained in the statement that suspension means “the two groups will not be eligible to hold events on campus or receive University funding.”

“Lifting the suspension will be contingent on the two groups demonstrating a commitment to compliance with University policies and engaging in consultations at a group leadership level with University officials,” he continued. 

“Like all student groups, SJP and JVP are required to abide by University policies and procedures,” the announcement said. “This ensures both the safety of our community and that core University activities can be conducted without disruption. During this especially charged time on our campus, we are strongly committed to giving space to student groups to participate in debate, advocacy, and protest. This relies on community members abiding by the rules and cooperating with University administrators who have a duty to ensure the safety of everyone in our community.”  

The unauthorized event, which took place Thursday, involved hundreds of Columbia students participating in a walkout, as part of “Shut It Down For Palestine,” a nationwide movement in response to Israel’s war with Hamas. A flier for the demonstration, which was posted on the Columbia chapters of JVP and SJP Instagram accounts, called on students nationwide to demand governments cut off all aid to Israel and called for an immediate ceasefire. 

SJP and JVP also demanded that Columbia call Israel’s ground offensive in Gaza a genocide and to boycott business parterships with the Jewish state.

During a Wednesday sit-in at Columbia’s School of Social Work, an individual shouted antisemitic and anti-Black statements, then instigated fights with several students, the Columbia Spectator reported. 

Columbia’s event policy mandates that groups apply for permits at least 10 days in advance of any demonstration or protest in order to hold events on school property.

The move comes on the heels of a letter jointly written by the Anti-Defamation League and the Louis D. Brandeis Center in late October to nearly 200 university presidents that claims SJP “provides vocal and potentially material support to Hamas, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization,” demanding that schools “investigate the activities of your campus chapter of [SJP] for potential violations of 18 USC 2339A and B, and its state equivalents, that is, for potential violations of the prohibition against materially supporting a foreign terrorist organization.” 

The announcement makes Columbia the second private university to take disciplinary action against SJP since the Israel-Hamas war started, following Brandeis University’s permanent crackdown on Monday. Brandeis cited SJP’s open support for Hamas, which the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization, as the driving factor in its decision.

It also marks the first time a campus chapter of JVP has been suspended. Progressive pro-Israel lawmakers and activists have gradually cracked down on JVP and other extreme Jewish voices from the hard left as the anti-Zionist groups have grown increasingly radical amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. National JVP’s website says they “proudly endorse the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS).” 

Earlier this month, Columbia University’s administration declined to comment to Jewish Insider after 144 members of its faculty signed an open letter that called Israel an apartheid state while referring to Hamas’ terrorist attacks on Oct. 7 as a legitimate “military action.”

Soon after, Columbia President Minouche Shafik, Barnard College President Laura Ann Rosenbury and Teachers College President Thomas Bailey announced a new “Task Force on Antisemitism” that will in the coming months “identify practical ways for our safety and inclusion work to enhance support for all members of the Columbia, Barnard, and Teachers College communities, particularly our Jewish students. Longer term, it will recommend more ambitious changes related to academic and extracurricular offerings and student, faculty, and staff training programs.”

Requests for comments from Columbia’s SJP and JVP chapters were not immediately returned.

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